HT Soweto, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria)
If a poll was conducted in Nigeria today, asking average Nigerians how they have fared since 29 May when President Bola Tinubu came to power, the prevailing answer would be a tale of suffering, hardship and misery. Such is the scale, rapidity and magnitude of the attacks the new administration has unleashed on poor Nigerians, the working class and layers of the middle classes through its so-called economic reforms.
On 29 May, as he was being sworn in, Tinubu declared: “Fuel subsidy is gone”. That declaration has now been revealed to be an off-the-cuff remark – that is, a reckless and irresponsible step that was neither discussed, let alone any mitigating plan prepared!
Immediately, fuel prices rocketed from N195 per litre to at least N500 per litre as hapless Nigerians raced to the nearest petrol station to stock up! Society came to a halt as transport prices shot up. Workers and students were stranded at bus stops unable to afford the new fares.
Weeks later, many workers are still trekking to work and a number of state governments have had to announce a reduction of the working week to three days. This anti-poor policy, which has been in the works for nearly three decades, was followed by a raft of others, including naira devaluation and a plan to introduce university tuition fees. Together they have had the combined effect of unleashing a cost-of-living crisis that has sent inflation soaring and living conditions crashing.
Nigeria is no stranger to poverty. In 2018, the resource-rich country, which is the seventh-largest exporter of crude oil in the world and Africa’s largest economy, was declared the poverty capital of the world. 133 million Nigerians, over 60 per cent of its estimated 220 million population, are said to be living in multidimensional poverty. But since 29 May, millions of poor and working-class families have suddenly found themselves in new levels of misery and deprivation. There is every possibility for pent-up rage to explode in any form – something which the youth restiveness and gang violence these past weeks in Ajegunle, a slum in Lagos State, already indicates.
By removing the fuel subsidy and devaluing the naira, the regime claims to have blocked fuel smugglers and currency speculators who have been making billions at the expense of the country. However, this only transfers the axis of exploitation from one layer of thieves (fuel smugglers) to another (petrol marketers).
This time around, Nigerians are at the mercy of petrol marketers who have taken to price gouging in order to better profit from the deregulation of the fuel market. By the time the new Dangote refinery becomes operational, a country of 220 million people would be at the mercy of one man for their energy needs! The same goes for unification of the exchange rate, which has led to soaring inflation and further distortion in the economy. The reality is that any solution to the crisis plaguing Nigeria can only succeed if it goes beyond the precinct of capitalism.
Policies like fuel subsidy removal do not address the root cause of the mess. That is why instead of ending the crisis, they produce new ones, while increasing the suffering of workers and the poor. We socialists demand instead that the rich who are responsible for the mess should pay for the crisis. This is why we call for a reversal of the fuel price hike, the arrest and trial of all subsidy thieves, and the seizure of their assets, a crash programme to repair old refineries and build new ones, and nationalisation of the oil and gas sector under working people’s control and management.
By nationalising the oil sector, we want all private profit interests (including local and multinationals) eliminated to permit the full utilisation of Nigeria’s oil and gas resources for the benefit of its population. By linking this key measure with nationalisation of all other key sectors of the economy like the banks, big industry and mines all under workers’ democratic control and management, it can be possible to implement a socialist plan to take the country’s wealth off the one percent, and instead invest it massively in public education and healthcare, expanding industry and creating decent jobs on a mass scale, modernising public infrastructure, expanding food production, protect the environment, invest in renewable energy sources and build decent homes for all and a living wage with a reduction of the working day.
Labour must challenge the ruling elite orchestra that says there is no other choice, by posing a clear alternative. Unfortunately, the retreat of the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) from continuing with the general strike initially called on 1 June to resist the subsidy removal, has helped embolden the regime. This can be overcome if labour changes course and calls for a 24-hour or 48-hour general strike and mass protests now as a starting point for a well-mobilised nationwide resistance against the regime’s ruinous policies. This has become urgent seeing that the negotiation with the Federal Government for palliative measures is clearly not going to yield any concrete outcome for the working people.
Labour was correct to have flatly rejected the unilateral offer of the regime to pay N8,000 each to 12 million vulnerable families over the next few months. This conditional cash transfer is part of a suite of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank facilities for the country to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal, for which the regime is requesting a new loan of N500 billion.
Reacting to this, the chairperson of the Lagos state council of the NLC, Funmi Sessi, said, “N8,000 cannot take care of a family for a week; it is not possible; it is going to be like a drop of water in the ocean… how will it [the government] identify those who are most affected, and how will the palliatives get to those actually in need? Labour is asking for a pay rise; for those in abject poverty, we believe the government can do better for them”.
This is a generally correct critique, but raises the question of what labour is still doing at the negotiation table? The negotiation has gone on for about three months now while workers continue to suffer. The truth is that whatever palliative is eventually granted, it will likely end up like the Covid-19 palliative two years ago – hoarded by politicians and crooks while many poor people got nothing.
The only way out is struggle. There is a responsibility on the NLC and TUC to change course. The starting point of this can be the convening of a conference of trade unionists and socialists to discuss how to build a programme of struggle to save the working people from the ongoing nightmarish situation.
At the same time however, there is the need for activists to begin to organise to build united struggles from below. In this sense, the DSM supports the initiatives been taken by the Joint Action Front (JAF) and other civil society coalitions to organise a fightback. In January 2012 when a mass uprising and general strike took place, it took independent initiatives like this in the preceding weeks and months to prepare the situation.
The question of what to do has now been posed sharply by the surprise 18 July hike in fuel prices. The NLC has issued an angry statement this hike and on the proposed N8,000 cash palliative. But, despite the angry words and the statement’s ending that the NLC will “take matters in our own hands”, there are no concrete proposals for mobilisation or action to defeat this onslaught.
This is why we hereby call for urgent preparation for mass protest to begin through leafleting and public mass meetings. Democratic action committees, made up of activists, workers in the workplaces and youth in the community and campuses, should be built from below and linked up across states and nationally, to give leadership to the movement. A series of protests and demonstrations can be a powerful lever of pressure on the leadership of the NLC and TUC to act. Given the suffering and the anger, any initiative for struggle can also quickly develop into a national movement that can force the regime to backtrack. The truth is that the regime remains fundamentally weak. It was ‘elected’ by just 8.7 million voters -10% of the total number of registered voters and 37.7% of votes cast.
If a mass uprising develops today, the regime can quickly fracture or collapse, raising the question of what replaces it. This is why simultaneously as we prepare to fight back, it is also essential for a mass workers’ party to be built that can act as a lever for the working class and oppressed masses of Nigeria to take power and begin to run society along socialist lines. Otherwise there is a risk of a regime collapse leading to the coming to power of the military or, in the worst case scenario, a descent into sectarian conflict, something which can take Nigeria further along the direction of barbarism.
- Reversal of pump price of fuel to N195 per litre
- Arrest and speedy trial of all subsidy thieves and seizure of their ill-gotten wealth
- N200,000 national minimum wage to be regularly increased in accordance with the rate of inflation
- Immediate crash programme to repair old refineries and build new ones
- Refined fuel from Dangote refinery, when it starts operating, to conform to a price cap of N195 per litre otherwise it should be nationalised under workers control and management
- Reversal of all hiked school fees. No to student loan. For improved funding of public education
- Immediate meeting of the demands of academic staff, non-academic staff, doctors and all medical personnel
- Release of all political prisoners and end to attacks on democratic rights
- Nationalisation of the oil and gas sector, banks, big industry and mines under workers control and management
- A workers and poor people’s government armed with a socialist programme
- This article in full can be read online at socialistworld.net
Resist tuition fees attacks
Education Rights Campaign activist
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) organised a hybrid meeting on 22 July to address the recent Students Loan Act in Nigeria, introduced by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration, and the wave of fee hikes in public universities. ERC is an educational group formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – CWI Nigeria – campaigning for free and quality education in Nigeria.
The meeting’s attendance included socialists, students’ union officers and activists, and Nigerian students in Britain. The speakers also included officials of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) – the most radical trade union in Nigeria, members of DSM and ERC, representatives from Socialist Students and the Socialist Party in England and Wales.
Some of the speakers explained how the Students Loan Act is clearly an attempt to introduce tuition fees in public universities. Until now tuition fees have been officially non-existent, but the authors of the Act have stated that the loans are meant to cater for tuition fees, which by direct implication suggests more burden for the already impoverished students and parents in Nigeria.
In addition, the numerous conditions attached to the loans suggest a vast majority of students from poor backgrounds would not be able to access them, and it exposes the insincerity of the new Tinubu-led government. The ERC calls for a vehement opposition of the loan act and argues for student grants instead to support the studying and living expenses of students.
The wave of fee hikes across campuses in Nigeria formed another part of the discussion with the most recent being the hike in fees by University of Lagos by over 400%. Plans to increase fees in Unity Secondary Schools across the country have also been announced, and parents who have voiced their opposition to it have had their children expelled from school. Attendees of the meeting concluded rightly that these policies and the planned introduction of tuition fees are in line with the government’s agenda to shirk its responsibility of funding education as a social service, but rather, it wants to commercialise it.
The effect of these policies, if not fought against, would be a massive drop out of students and job losses for education workers. Already, the enrolment of students into departments in the Lagos State University has dwindled significantly after a 300% fee hike was implemented ten years ago. Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto State also recently had to postpone its examinations because a huge number of students were unable to pay fees.
Evidently, the commercialisation of education has failed all over the world, and Pippa Evans from Socialist Students in London spoke on how the cost-of-living crisis has impacted students in Britain, and how the student loan policy in place has not ameliorated the situation. About 11% of students in Britain now have to use food banks and 18% cannot afford necessary learning materials. University lecturers in Britain have also been forced to take various strike actions as members of the University and College Union (UCU) demand better working conditions.
The plight of Nigerian students in the UK was also highlighted. Tinubu’s policy on exchange rate unification has meant that the students suddenly have to grapple with the nightmare of sourcing more funds to be able to convert their money into pound sterling to offset their school fees.
It was agreed that all of the aforementioned policies of the capitalist Tinubu-led administration are attacks on public education in Nigeria. It requires an urgent coordinated action of students, parents and education workers, with solidarity from activists, civil society coalitions, and the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress, to organise mass resistance against government attacks.
Financial donations and pledges were made at the meeting, with a plan to commence mobilisation across campuses and begin a nationwide campaign against the student loan and fee hikes. An appeal for solidarity from all unions and sections of the working masses was made, including the Nigerian diaspora, in Britain specifically.
The wave of fee hikes and commercialisation of education are just a few out of the anti-working class and poor policies launched by the Tinubu-led administration (see opposite). This is why the ERC also believes in the need for the working and poor people to organise for a mass workers’ political alternative that can transform Nigeria along socialist lines, by utilising the enormous resources of the country to provide free and quality education and jobs for the teeming youth who make up the largest chunk of the country’s vast population.